As I read the descriptions for Bend it at Beckham and the Usdan Coffee House event on the orientation schedule for Friday night, I was reminded of a time when those two events felt like the difference between two paths that would alter the course of my college career and, of course, my entire life.
It was orientation week, and I was faced with what seemed like my first big college decision: whether to go to Bend It At Beckham, the big cross-dressing themed event of orientation that everyone was talking about, or the Coffee House event, which sounded more enjoyable to me at the time. I spent the day asking people which event they were going to, trying to get a sense of whether it would be “acceptable” for me to go to the Coffee House and skip Bend It. Would I forever be mocked for missing the social event of the year? The story ended perfectly: I met a new friend that evening before the events, and we bonded over our mutual desire to hang out in small groups and avoid the crowds. To Usdan we went.
That night is one of my best memories from orientation: I got to know a few friends who I’m still close with today, heard slam poetry for the first time and discovered how much I loved it, and began to feel truly at home here. But the best part of it was that nobody cared that I went to the Coffee House, or that I didn’t go to Bend It. In high school, I tried to be independent, but the truth was that I cared about what other people thought. But one of the most exciting parts of college is that everyone somehow simultaneously matures enough to stop caring about what everyone else is doing. You are truly free to do what you want. If I had to list the main marker of a “cool” Wesleyan student, I would say passion: someone who is excited about something, no matter what that thing might be. College is an exciting time when we’re granted the freedom to spend four years figuring out what we care about and dedicating ourselves to it. It sounds easy in theory. Freedom from peer pressure sounds so liberating; it did to me, at first. I had always had a compartment in the back of my mind dedicated to filtering through what others thought of me, whatever glimmer of approval or disapproval I could glean from their words or facial expressions. That folder was always with me, a resource I drew on while making decisions, and I couldn’t let go of it, as much as I wanted to, until I got to college. But what I didn’t realize is that a different sort of filtering would quickly fill that empty little file.
Being yourself sounds like an invitation to a life free of stress, and in many ways it is, but it’s also an invitation to a new reason to stress: figuring out what being yourself actually means. This is made even more confusing by the fact that there are so many options here, so many different paths that might turn your “self” into a slightly different person. It can start to feel like every decision is crucial to the formation of this “self” that you are supposed to be finding and expressing in college. I spent more time out of the last two years than I’d like to admit wondering what my “self” would look like had I gotten more involved in theater or music.
For the typical Wesleyan student, so much looks interesting, but in the interest of time and sleep, we are forced to prioritize. As a first-year, learning to make those choices can feel like the difference between a good college experience and a great, life-changing college experience, the kind that we imagine all of the upperclassmen have somehow figured out how to get. But as a newly minted upperclassman, I’m here to say that we really don’t have it figured out. We’ve all gotten to wherever we are through the same process that you’re embarking upon now: prioritizing, making the decisions that seem right at the time, knowing that by choosing one particular edition of The College Experience (TM), we might be missing out on thousands of other alternate versions.
But the college experience is not a brand; you never have to commit to one version of your experience. There’s always room to try something new or give something up as you grow and change throughout your four years. So try to treat this experience as a rough draft that’s always changing. Set some goals but keep them loose, because sometimes the most important goals are the ones you didn’t even know you had. Let this opportunity be one of chaos and excitement; I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but somehow, over the course of your time here, you’ll begin to see that those two things so often overlap. Embrace the overload of opportunities that are coming your way, because they’re just that: opportunities. Whichever path you choose at a given moment, you’ll always come out a changed, more informed, more complex person, and there’s no harm in that. Bend It or Coffee House? Follow your gut; flip a coin. It really doesn’t matter. Either way, we’re glad you’re here.
Isabel Fattal is a member of the Class of 2017.